Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

The Neverending Story

Posted by hyperpat on September 26, 2006

Why is it that fantasy authors can’t seem to get their story told in something less than 6,000 pages spread across six volumes? Examples include George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (not complete), Stephen King’s Dark Tower (finally complete after thirty years), Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant (thought to be complete at six volumes, but now he’s adding more), Robin Hobb’s Farseer, Live Ship Traders, and Tawny Man set (three closely interrelated trilogies), Terry Brooks Shannara set, and the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Wheel of Time monster by Robert Jordan. Now this is not to say that these works are bad (in fact, the first four listed fall in the very good to excellent class, IMO), but it does sometimes seem as if these stories never have an end, have a cast of thousands (literally, in some cases) that sorely tax the poor reader’s ability to remember who’s who, and descriptive passages that go on and on.

Now certainly part of the reason for these monsters is the fact that the authors have spent a lot of time in creating their fantasy worlds, investing them with so much detail that these worlds can literally come alive for the reader. Naturally, they are reluctant to just throw all that hard work away and start on something totally new. And in general, the readers clearly want this, as they eagerly buy up whatever the next volume is, often waiting years in anticipation for it to appear. Which makes the publishers request more from the authors, as this is obviously money in the bank.

But I’d like to see more fantasy works that are really complete in one volume. And there are a few authors who seem to produce such things: Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn, A Fine and Private Place), Emma Bull (War for the Oaks, Bone Dance), Terri Windling (The Wood Wife), and John Crowley (Little, Big). All these are good reading, and you won’t have wait another decade for the authors to finish these stories.

4 Responses to “The Neverending Story”

  1. fencer said

    I have the impression that it’s often the publishers who push these series on and on. The series have got immediate “brand” recognition and an established fan base in many cases.

    I know when I’m in the book store or library looking, now that I’m reading more science fiction again, I am deterred from picking up a book that’s part of a series. Firstly, I need to know whether I really want to get involved since the end of the story might be several volumes hence. Secondly, if I can’t find the first one, I don’t want to start part way through and not have sufficient context.

    Nevertheless, I’m ready to read more Thomas Covenant!

    I’ve never run across Robin Hobb’s books. I will have to take a look.


  2. hyperpat said

    Robin Hobb also goes by Megan Lindholm, and under that name she wrote Wizard of the Pigeons (something of a classic), Gypsy (with Steven Brust, and one of the better single volume fantasies in the last 30 years or so), along with a couple of YA series. Her Farseer/Madship set is quite different from the average run-of-mill, and now that it’s complete, well worth diving into.

  3. Peter said

    Many moons ago I started reading Robert Jordans ‘Wheel of Time’ series – actually before the 2nd book was published. I gave up on it after book 5 figuring it would never end. Although in 98 I started a job that gave me a very long (5 hour round trip) commute once or twice a week, so I started listening to the unabridged books on tape versions (thankfully my local library carries them). I am caught up now (save for the latest one), and I am glad that he intends to finish the series in just one more book (although I read he is suffering from a series illness). That is a series that went out of control – devoting pages upon pages to descriptions of clothing….
    But alas, I wait for the final book!
    Have you read any of this leviathan of a series?

  4. hyperpat said

    If I remember right, I read the first couple, then gave up. I just didn’t see anything spectacular in it, and I could already see the signs of a work that had no clear end in mind. Of course, that’s been true of quite a few fantasy works in their early books, many of which I’ve persevered through, but in those cases there was always something about the story that caught my interest.

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